Bill Engels and Paul Dell have known each other for 40 years.
They’ve become close over the decades – seeing each other’s kids and grandkids grow up. They’ve gone from coworkers to serving their community together as retirees.
For more than 15 years, the pair has kept their bond strong by delivering food to those in need as Food Depository volunteer drivers.
“This is just an extension of our friendship,” Engels said. “It’s a way for us to be together, do something constructive, and laugh a lot.”
Several times a month, Engels and Dell – who both live in suburban LaGrange – deliver pallets of food to pantries and other programs within the Food Depository’s network. It began in 2005 when a friend of Dell’s son, a then-employee of the Food Depository, told him the organization needed volunteers to help make holiday deliveries.
“I love to drive,” said Dell, 69. “You could give me anything, if I can drive, I’ll do it all day. And I like getting around the city of Chicago.”
When he retired a few years later, he started coming in year-round. It wasn’t long after that he asked Engels to join. Engels, 82, had long been retired from his auditing job at Amoco, where the two met decades prior.
In some ways, the mission is personal for Engels. Growing up in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side, he and his two siblings were raised by a single mom. His father died when he was 8.
“I have some sense of what these people are going through,” he said. “I understand what their circumstances are. One of the things that’s important is you don’t make people feel like you’re doing an act of charity – you’re helping them to become what they can be.”
Reflecting on their years making deliveries, Engels and Dell both shared the same favorite memory: working with students at the schools on their route. For many years, they would make deliveries to local schools for their Healthy Student Market distributions, a program in which parents can pick up fresh foods for their families.
COVID-19 put many of these programs on hold, including the ones that Engels and Dell delivered to, but they looked back fondly on the camaraderie they built with the groups of middle schoolers who would help organize the food once it was loaded off the truck.
“They felt like really special people, and they were,” Engels said. “They were like the vanguard of feeding all these people. They got the sense that they were a really positive force in their school.”
At those visits and others, Dell knows that for many of the people he meets, they’re the face of the organization. It’s a role that he takes seriously – and finds rewarding.
“We always view ourselves as the Food Depository to the community,” he said.
Engels also takes pride in it. He said he often feels like he gets more out of the experience than he gives. He gets to be a “doer of good.”
“I can help this organization be good, and I can carry those ideas to people,” he said. “It’s important that people don’t feel like they’re existing because of us – that’s not what’s happening here. You deserve the opportunity to eat, be well-fed and have people do acts of kindness for you, that’s all.”
For those interested in giving back, sign up for a volunteer session at the Food Depository. Or, to help out closer to home, find a partner site near you by using our Find Food Map and ask about volunteer opportunities.